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Creating Merchandising Mavens

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Creating Merchandising Mavens

Developing merchandising skills among your staff takes a little time and effort but it’s worth it. Instead of having one person adept at merchandising you can create an army of merchandising mavens.

Merchandising Clinics

Start by teaching them the basics through a series of weekly clinic sessions. Your store merchandiser, an outside expert or a merchandising-savvy sales rep can conduct the clinics. Cover no more than one or two concepts at a time and have each staff member practice using what they’ve learned during the following week. Share experiences at subsequent sessions.

Here are some suggestions for creating a month’s worth of merchandising clinics:

Clinic #1 Fixtures

Review the different types of fixtures – 4-ways, t-stands, rounders, waterfalls, straight arms, gondolas, binning systems, end caps, slatwall – and talk about the function, capacities and positioning of each with an emphasis on how they should be merchandised.

Clinic #2 Cross Merchandising

Show how to combine products in displays from different areas of the store. Some suggested combinations are socks with shoes and boots, sleeping pads with bags, fleece with outerwear, maps and cookware with tents. The possibilities are endless.

Clinic #3 Display Basics

Discuss the arrangement of symmetrical and asymmetrical displays. Talk about how high or how low to place merchandise and how to effectively merchandise a wall. Walk through the store observing traffic patterns, discovering good display spaces and noticing how products and areas are lighted and what needs improvement.

Clinic #4 Merchandising Clothing

Since this is a large part of your inventory it deserves its own clinic session. There are two categories of clothing – technical and sportswear. Each is gender specific with its own set of sales needs so it may be desirable to divide clothing clinics into men’s and women’s. Talk about layering, fit, color, sizing and coordination.

Because there’s staff turnover, prepare a “cheat sheet” of the merchandising basics and make it a part of a new recruit’s job description to read and put the basics into practice.

Visit Other Stores

Take a few shop employees at a time to other stores in your town. Go to all sorts of different types of stores – gift shops, clothing stores, kitchen and tabletop shops, grocery stores, etc. Point out which merchandising methods used in those stores could be adapted to use in yours.

Create Merchandising Mentors

Identify the best merchandisers on your staff and ask them to mentor one or two others. Have them lead by example and work one-on-one with their “mentorees” to help them develop skills and gain confidence.

Once your staff has learned the basics, give each person a spot in the store to merchandise every two to three weeks. Start by assigning them an area in which they feel comfortable. The climbing expert might feel uncomfortable in the women’s sportswear area at first. But, later, mix it up and reassign areas so everyone tries different product categories. Suggested display areas are your glass cases, cash/wrap area, footwear, climbing, camping, bags and packs, front windows, men’s and women’s sportswear and technical clothing. Additional areas might include bikes, skis, snowboards and boats.

Devote a section of your merchandising clinics to the evaluation of the displays they’ve created (be positive) and, eventually, hold a merchandising contest. Give each of them (or a group of two or three) an area in the store in which to create a new display. Set a time limit for completion and ask a panel of customers to judge the results. The winner and runner-up could receive a cash prize, a day off with pay and a gift certificate at a fancy restaurant or whatever seems motivational.


Establish a feedback system that rates the effectiveness of your merchandising efforts based on sales figures in a given two-week period. Ask staff members to tell you their perceptions of which displays are working and which aren’t. Encourage suggestions for change.


Create an online and in-store merchandising library that your staff can access. There are more good books and merchandising sites available today than ever before.. Two of the best books on merchandising are Merchandising Your Way to Success and, for clothing, Silent Selling. For a real eye-opener about customer behavior in stores, purchase a copy of Paco Underhill’s popular book, Why We Buy, and circulate it among your staff. One of the most helpful websites for basic display tips is

Savvy retailers recognize the importance of merchandising in increasing sales and profits. But there’s more to it than that. The development of merchandising skills raises self-esteem levels and increases motivation among your staff. Just don’t forget to hide your staple guns!